Firefighter acquitted of historic sexual assault charges

A Winnipeg firefighter and martial arts instructor has been acquitted on historical sexual assault charges stemming from alleged assaults on a woman who said he started to touch her inappropriately when she was just 12 years old.

Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Joan McKelvey said it was a “very difficult” decision when announcing her rationale last Friday for finding Manuel Ruiz not guilty of sexual assault, forcible entry and uttering threats.

The case centred around a woman who alleged she was assaulted between 1986 and 1993 at a Sherbrook Street martial arts gym when she was a minor and unable to consent.

Ruiz denied he knew the woman — who cannot be named due to a publication ban — during this timeframe and said he didn’t know her until 1997 or 1998. He argued it would be unlikely for her to be touched in open gym areas multiple times without someone seeing.

“Further while I have found [the woman] to be a credible witness I am not confident as to her reliability in recounting the events between 1986 and 1993. The same could be said with respect to the accused,” McKelvey said.

“These events were alleged to have transpired many decades ago and I can not be certain beyond a reasonable doubt that they occurred. In essence, I am unable to decide whom to believe.”

Manuel Ruiz was cleared in a separate sexual assault case last October. (Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench)

A second sexual assault charge stemming from incidents during 1998-2002 also didn’t meet the conviction threshold, McKelvey ruled.

The woman testified there were many instances of unwanted sexual contact at an Osborne Street apartment during this time.

McKelvey said Ruiz had little memory in 2018 while speaking to police some 16 years after the alleged assaults.

Didn’t display great character: Judge

“[The woman] was simply one of the many women who crossed his path,” she said, adding Ruiz was aware she went to the police because of a media article at the time.

“His evidence at times was evasive, however he steadfastly maintained that a consensual relationship had transpired. The accused was not always a reliable witness and in fact was an individual who did not display great character in the circumstances of his relationship with [the woman].

“Indeed the events [she] has described as regards her interactions with the accused may well have occurred. However, I have reliability concerns with respect to both the accused and [the woman].”

McKelvey also said a 2002 charge of forcible entry couldn’t be supported beyond a reasonable doubt.

The judge also said she wasn’t satisfied Ruiz uttered a threat to hurt the woman’s dog, burn or destroy property accepting testimony that a comment he made about hurting her dog was said in the heat of the moment and something he apologized for.

McKelvey said while the woman wasn’t misleading on the stand, she had gaps in her memory and attributed medication she took for depression as a child as a factor preventing her ability to think clearly.

“She described herself being shattered and overwhelmed for periods of time.”

Last October, Ruiz was cleared in a separate sexual assault case after the Crown conceded it hadn’t proved its case.

Crown attorney Michelle Bright confirmed Monday that Ruiz has no other pending charges but did not say if she would appeal the decision.